|by James A. Fowler
If you were to ask a person whether he is "rich" or "poor", that person would likely equivocate by replying that he considered himself "somewhere in between." "Rich" and "poor" are often regarded as relative terms. The rich can generally point to others richer than themselves, and recognize that there is a degree of pride and arrogance in claiming to be "rich." The poor can, likewise, point to others poorer than themselves, but are more likely to recognize and admit their poverty. When the poor lament their poverty in self-pity, however, they are often regarded as ungrateful whiners begging for handouts. Most people are content to categorize themselves somewhere in-between "rich" or "poor", in the ambiguous "middle-class" majority.
The terms "rich" and "poor" are also used in reference to categories other than quantifiable material possessions and assets. A person can be considered "rich" in talent, ability, experience, personal relationship, or spiritual condition. Poverty can be applied to attitude and example, as well as personal relationships and spiritual condition. So, when we begin to categorize people as "rich" and/or "poor", it is important to clarify whether we are referring to the abundance or scarcity of material possessions, or whether we are referring to more intangible factors of plenitude or paucity.
Identifying the "rich" and "poor"
German social analyst, Friedrich Georg Juenger, explained that "riches, by definition, are either a being or a having."1 He went on to note that "in all Indo-Germanic languages, riches are conceived as a being."2 As the English word "rich" is etymologically derived from the Germanic languages, it is instructive, therefore, to observe how Juenger points out that "in German" (his native language), "'rich' (reich) and 'realm' (Reich) are of the same root."3 Kings usually reign within their kingdoms because of who they are, the richness of their bloodline, which often facilitates a richness of possession and power. Juenger's subsequent humanistic argument of an inherent nobility or regality in man forming the basis of richness of "being" is to be rejected, however. To define the "being" of man only in psychological and physical categories as the "original wealth of an endowment of nature" or "social rank"4 is woefully inadequate to explain the depth of man's "being" either in its wealth or poverty. The distinction that Juenger draws between the richness of "having" and "being" is a valid observation, though, and will be utilized as we seek to identify the "rich" and "poor."
The rich and poor in "having" are often referred to as the "haves" and the "have-nots". The questions that then beg for an answer are: How much does one have to have in order to be a "have"? I.e. to be rich? How much does one have to not-have in order to be a "have-not"? I.e. to be poor? Can these terms be quantitatively evaluated in monetary amounts or asset assignment? (Example: U.S. Government's determination of poverty level annual income.) Or are these designations only relatively and comparatively defined in terms of the proportional perspective of the opposite group or the one making the evaluation?
In terms of self-evaluation the rich seldom consider themselves as "rich" because they do not have everything. The poor do not consider themselves as "poor" because it is not that they do not have anything, or that they have nothing. So, if someone has anything, he can claim he's not "rich" because he does not have everything, and he can claim he's not "poor" because he does not have nothing. Therefore, if one has anything he will be richer than one who has nothing, and will be regarded as "rich" by someone who has less.
Though the wealth, affluence and prosperity of some will be evident by their plenitude and abundance of possessions, the paucity and need of others, the destitute, indigent and paupers, will be just as self-evident. In between the obvious extremes there will always be a relative proportionalism in identifying "rich" and/or "poor." Most of us in Western society will have to admit, though, that proportional to humanity as a whole, we have to accept the identification of being "rich" in the "having" of tangible assets.
Beyond the material and tangible assets, wealth or poverty of "having" can also be considered in terms of intangible criteria also. A person can be regarded as "rich" or "poor" in "having" ability, talent, skills, intelligence, aesthetic beauty, etc. Wealth and poverty are also connected with "having" rank, position, advantage, culture, experience and relationships. The richness of "having" includes both tangible assets and intangible phenomena.
Some, like Juenger,5 regard these intangible characteristics as the basis of one's being rich or poor in "being", rather than "having" physical, psychological and social assets and opportunities. This is consistent with the humanistic premise of anthropology that posits man's "being" as inherent within himself with the subsequent possibilities of possession and association - these being foundational to the materialism of capitalism and the socialism of communism, respectively. Rejecting the humanistic premise of anthropological "being", this study will proceed to establish the wealth and poverty of man's "being" in terms of a person's spiritual condition, and that in relation to their wealth or poverty of "having".
Though we sometimes refer to mankind as "human beings", this does not necessarily imply an independent, autonomous, self-existent "being" of humanity. Rather than an innate and intrinsic "being" or nature in man, it is necessary to recognize that man is a derivative and contingent creature who derives spiritual "being" and identity from a spiritual being or personage other than himself, either from the "being" of God or of Satan.
The impoverishment of spiritual condition that resulted from the fall of man into sin (Gen. 3) meant that the Being of God was no longer present or functional in an unregenerate person's spirit. The unregenerate are "devoid of the Spirit" (Jude 19) and "without God in this world" (Eph. 2:12). This does not mean, however, that the unregenerate are devoid of, or without, spiritual being, for their spiritual condition is not to be defined as the privation of "not-being" or as a vacuous non-function. Fallen men are not devoid of spiritual being, function, nature, character or energizing. They are actually poorer than they realize, for as spiritually derivative creatures always deriving their identification of spiritual being from either God or Satan, they are deriving their spiritual being, nature and character from the Evil One. The diabolic "prince of the power of the air" is the "spirit that works in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2). The "spirit of this world" (I Cor. 2:12), the "spirit of error" (I John 4:6), is the spiritual being operative in the unregenerate and manifesting his character through their behavior.
By double entendre the ruler of Tyre is interpreted as the historical representative of Lucifer and his fall into becoming Satan (cf. Ezek. 28:13). Ezekiel reports that he was "very rich in gold and silver which he had acquired for himself" (Ezek. 28:4), and "lifted up his heart..., and made his heart like the heart of God" (Ezek. 28:2,5,6), saying, "I am a god" (Ezek. 28:2,9). That is the attitude and character of acquisitive self-centeredness indicative of the being of Satan, and the very attitude that he injects and energizes in fallen, unregenerate mankind with the tempting lie, "You, too, can be like god" (Gen. 3:5). The natural man is spiritually impoverished, poor in "being", despite whether he is rich or poor in "having," but he cannot recognize the poverty of his spiritual condition because his mind has been "blinded" (II Cor. 4:4), and he "cannot understand spiritual things" (I Cor. 2:14).
From this spiritual condition of impoverishment wherein Satan serves as the basis of the unregenerate person's "being", nature and character, the natural man assumes that he is independent, autonomous and self-reliant. Duped by this lie of the deceiver, the unregenerate establish themselves as their own center of reference, as their own "god", as their own source of human "being," believing that the wealth of "being" is in themselves. Humanistically advocating that one must "believe in oneself" in order to actuate one's functional potential, fallen man assumes the attitude of proud self-sufficiency. "I am the captain of my soul." "I am the master of my fate." "I have what it takes in myself to achieve anything that my mind can conceive." "I can do it!" "I must plan carefully, work hard, and perform well to achieve the objectives I have set for myself." "I will reach my potential, and fulfill my dreams, as I desire and aspire to acquire and retire."
Whether rich or poor in "having", the poor in "being" tend to develop their raison d'etre and sense of identity in terms of acquisitional and accumulative "having." "Having" becomes the criteria of "being." "I have, therefore, I am." "I have not, therefore, I am not." "I am somebody, based on what I have." "I am nobody, based on what I do not have." This false sense of identity easily transfers into finding one's sense of well-being, happiness, reason for living, and evaluation of success in the "having" or "not-having" of natural abilities and the acquisition of physical properties. To establish one's identity of "being" in the "having" of natural abilities is humanism. To establish one's identity of "being" in the "having" of physical possessions is materialism. To establish one's identity of "being" in the "having" of relational associations is socialism. To establish one's identity of "being" in the derived Being of God in Christ indwelling the spirit of a receptive individual is Christianity.
Having no concept or awareness of derived spiritual "being", the unregenerate individual inevitably establishes his identity in himself, his associations, and/or his possessions. These become the basis of such a person's faith, hope and love. Their trust and reliance is in themselves and their acquisitions. Those rich in "having" regard their wealth as the basis of comfort, security, freedom, and the guarantee of the future. Those poor in "having" desire and aspire to acquire wealth for the same fallacious benefits, but when unable to do so they often resign themselves to being helpless, hopeless and insecure. Since the rich in "having" enjoy the social privilege of exalted position and superior power, they "rule over the poor" (Prov. 22:7). The poor in "having" thus experience a sense of inferiority in the humiliation and embarrassment of social rejection, often capitulating to a victim-mentality or a welfare-mentality of dependence on others. The rich claim that the poor are poor because they are lazy and unwilling to work to realize their potential. The poor claim that the rich are rich because they use and abuse others to selfishly enrich themselves at the expense of others.
Without a doubt the rich have used the power of their tangible assets to control, manipulate and exploit the poor in extortion, fraud, injustice and betrayal. Their selfish aspiration to "get" and acquire, to accumulate more and more by hoarding, stockpiling, and "building bigger barns" (Lk. 12:18), often causes them to adopt the expedient principle that "the end justifies the means."
The poor in "having" and poor in "being" adopt the same principle of expedience, though, in their aspiration to acquire. In selfish discontent the poor blame the rich for their condition. They insist on their deservedness of social and economic equity. They use the leverage of victim-empowerment to insist on their rights to take from the rich and be supported by the rich.
Whether rich or poor in "having", those who are spiritually impoverished in "being" seldom find enjoyment or happiness in what they "have" or "do not have". Those who think "money is the answer to everything" (cf. Eccl. 10:19) inevitably discover that "he who loves money will not be satisfied with money" (Eccl. 5:10). The proverbial wisdom of Agur withstands the test of time: "Give me neither poverty nor riches" - for in wealth I might "be full and deny God", but in poverty I may "be in want and steal, thus profaning the name of God." Give me just what I need, Lord; "feed me with the food that is my portion" (Prov. 30:8,9).
The good news of the Christian gospel is that one does not have to remain in the natural, impoverished state of spiritual "being" with a selfish orientation toward wealth or poverty of "having." A richness of spiritual "being" has been made available to all men in Jesus Christ. "Jesus Christ, though He was rich (in the essential Being of God), for our sake became poor (emptied Himself of the divine prerogatives of function in becoming a dependent man - Phil. 2:6-8), that we through His poverty (even unto death) might become rich (by the derived "being" of the very Being of God invested in the spirit of a person by the indwelling Spirit of Christ)" (II Cor. 8:9). The "riches of God's grace" (Eph. 1:7; 2:7) in Christ (Eph. 3:8) are the riches of the glorious mystery (Rom. 9:23; Eph. 1:18; 3:16) of "Christ in us, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). In spiritual regeneration (John 3:1-6) an individual receives the richness of God's life and Being as the Spirit of Christ indwells the spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9,16) of a receptive person.
To "have the Spirit of Christ" (Rom. 8:9) is not a richness of "having", for no one can "possess" Jesus Christ nor any of the benefits that are inherent in His Being. The Christian does not "possess" salvation, righteousness, or eternal life, but is instead "possessed" by the Lord Jesus Christ as His Being becomes the derived "being" of our identity as Christians - as Christ-ones. This spiritual richness of "being" is not a transformation of the Christian into the essential Being of Christ, for the Christian does not become God, but is a transference of a derived "being" whereby our spiritual identity is linked in union with the Spirit of Christ (cf. I Cor. 6:17). Whereas the richness of "having" provides a false sense of identity in natural abilities, material possessions, and relational associations, the richness of derived "being" in Christ provides an identity based on spiritual condition and oneness with Christ. Everything inherent in the divine Being becomes present and functional in the richness of the derived "being" of the Christian. Christians are "complete in Christ" (Col. 2:10). The rich in "having" can never claim to have everything, but the rich in "being" in Christ have everything spiritual (I Cor. 3:21-23), "everything pertaining to life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:3), "every spiritual blessing in heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3).
Having everything that God has to give in Christ, the Christian can have a contentment (Heb. 13:5) in all circumstances, in poverty or prosperity, in abundance or need (Phil. 4:11,12). The worry often associated with "having" or "not-having" material possessions is alleviated by the richness of "being" that the Christian has in Christ (Matt. 6:25; Phil. 4:6). Jesus Christ is the basis of the Christian's security, comfort, peace, and well being. The Christian loves God, not money; has faith in Christ, not in himself; and has hope in God's faithfulness for the eternal-future, rather than in acquisitional guarantees for a limited-future.
The transference or exchange of spiritual "being" from the impoverishment of unregeneracy to the richness of regenerated life in Jesus Christ is not just a self-determined metamorphosis akin to the adaptation of a chameleon changing color. The spiritual condition of man's "being" is not autonomous or independent, and thus not self-determined or self-generated. This is not to say that the individual is not responsible to make choices and decisions that allow for their derived spiritual "being" in Christ, and the expressions of character thereby.
The necessary prelude and continuous prerequisite to the richness of spiritual "being" is the attitude and orientation of being "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3). The terminology utilized here can be very misleading - to be rich in spiritual "being" one must be "poor in spirit". "Poor in spirit" refers to a chosen attitude of humility whereby individuals recognize their own inability and the need of deriving spiritual "being" from One greater than themselves. Willing to be receptive, dependent, reliant and contingent upon God in Christ, the individual is prepared to make the choice of faith and to engage in prayer. This is the attitude that realizes, "I am not; only He is" (Being). "I do not have; only He has" (everything I need). "I cannot; only He can" (ability). By this attitude "the needy recognize the Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 29:19), and submit themselves in the receptivity of faith to the derived "being" of identification in Christ. From the richness of the glory of God's grace initiative in Jesus Christ, such individuals are receptive to the activity of God by faith and receive the presence and activity of God's Being in continued grace-expression. Thus they become ontologically rich in spiritual "being" by the Being of Christ in them.
Biblical Representation of "rich" and "poor"
The Biblical representations of the rich and poor are difficult to understand if we do not recognize the conjunctions of being rich and/or poor in both "having" and "being". Exegetes and commentators have long struggled with the generalizations of God's attitudes toward the rich and poor in both testaments. Spiritual understanding requires that we recognize that beneath and behind, or above and beyond, all physical, visible phenomena (such as wealth or poverty of "having") there are invisible, spiritual realities to be considered (in this case, the wealth or poverty of spiritual "being"). We must not address or view life with a one-dimensional tunnel-vision or literal, physical perspective, while failing to understand spiritual things (I Cor. 2:14), but this is the only appraisal that the natural man is capable of. Applying spiritual appraisal of spiritual "being" to the Biblical statements concerning the rich and the poor allows us to gain a more adequate perspective.
Some have thought that the Bible seems to generally accuse, charge, condemn, indict and judge those who have physical wealth. Jesus' pronouncement of "woe" upon the rich (Lk. 6:24), and James' call to the rich to "weep and howl for the miseries of judgment coming upon them" (James 5:1), have been interpreted as comprehensive indictments upon those who have wealth, as if having wealth is unrighteous or sinful in itself. How could this be when the Scriptures indicates that ""Abraham was rich" (Gen. 13:2; 14:23), as well as Job and Solomon, and these personages were considered to be faithful men of God (Heb. 11).
Biblical statements about the "rich" must be interpreted as referring to those who are rich in "having" while simultaneously being poor in "being." Richness of "having" conjoined with poverty of "being" is always contemptible. Acquisitional wealth combined with ontological impoverishment allows for the grossest forms of unrighteousness and "all sorts of evil" (I Tim. 6:10). When the exaltation of the plenitude of possessions (with the intangible powers of social placement, social influence, purchase power and political power) is merged with the pride and arrogance of self-interest and self-serving (manifesting the character of Satan in the behavior of the unregenerate wealthy), then abuses of every kind can and do result.
The Biblical injunctions against the rich often expose their greed and self-indulgence in the "luxury of wanton pleasure" (James 5:5); their insensitivity and unconcern for the disenfranchised and poor (Jere. 5:27-29); and their fraud, extortion and injustice as employers (James 5:4). They use and abuse others. They oppress, dominate, persecute and victimize others. They "rule over the poor" (Prov. 22:7). They destroy, kill and murder the poor (James 5:6) because they are spiritually energized by the Evil One, who "was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44; I Jn. 3:12).
Those who are rich in the acquisition and accumulation of possessions and assets, while spiritually impoverished in their spiritual "being" by their alignment and unification with the spiritual "being" of Satan, are attitudinally centered upon, and preoccupied with, themselves and their possessions. Their "love of money" (I Tim. 6:10) has led them into the idolatry of serving, and being mastered by, the diabolic god of mammon (Matt. 6:24). "Blinded by the god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4) and unable to understand spiritual realities (I Cor. 2:14) of spiritual "being", they adamantly deny that they are spiritually impoverished, that their attitudes are selfish and idolatrous, or that they are preoccupied and enslaved by their attachment to, and love of, money. Yet, they attempt to disguise their wealth in "pretensions of poverty" (Prov. 13:7) and in vocal assertions of altruistic concern for the poor, whom they are allegedly willing to assist in lifting up to their level of wealth (for a fee, price, or kick-back, whereby they enrich themselves).
Despite the fact that those who are rich in "having" and poor in "being" are the "haves", and are strong and superior with their power of employment, banking and influence whereby they control and manipulate the poor, they continue to have contempt and disdain for the poor, and to despise (Eccl. 9:16) and hate (Prov. 14:23; 19:7) the poor. Why? Because in their selfish "love of money" they do not want to feel responsible to share with the poor. They realize that no amount of pity and benevolence of "giving one's possessions to the poor" (I Cor. 13:3) will convert their "love of money" into a genuine love for others. The very continued existence of the poor exposes the impoverishment and bankruptcy of their spiritual condition, and they are most unwilling to admit their idolatry and their diabolic orientation. The poor are a constant reminder to the rich that they love themselves, have faith in their own abilities, and that their hopes are built on mammon.
The poor, on the other hand, often appear to be defended, vindicated and supported in the Biblical representations. Are the poor justified and considered as righteous just because of the scarcity of their possessions? No more so than the rich are unrighteous because of the abundance of their possessions! The poor are not favored by God, nor are they to be favored by men (Exod. 23:3; Lev. 19:15) just because they are poor. The poor in "having" are just as selfish and sinful as the rich in "having" if their poverty of acquisition is conjoined with the impoverishment of "being" in their spiritual condition. Manifesting the character of Satan, they will blame others for their situation, manipulate the system to their own advantage, and deceive and lie to acquire all they can get from others - in which case "the ruin of the poor is their poverty" (Prov. 10:15).
When the Scriptures seem to plead the case of the poor and defend the rights of the poor (Prov. 29:7; 30:20; Jere. 5:28), and even call them "blessed" (Lk. 6:20), it can only be because their poverty of "having" is connected with the initial attitude that is a prerequisite for richness of "being." The humiliation of their neediness and dependence on others for physical sustenance allows the poor to have humble recognition of their need for God, and receptivity to God's provision of spiritual Being in Himself. French sociologist, Jacques Ellul, correctly draws together the humiliation of physical poverty with the attitudinal humility of being "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3),6 but his denial of a personal, spiritual devil disallows his recognition of the spiritual "being" involved in the spiritual impoverishment of unregeneracy, and thus of the spiritual exchange of "being" in Christian conversion. His attempts to integrate the humiliation of material poverty and the humility of being "poor in spirit" (which he understands as spiritual poverty) are, therefore, quite ambiguous and most unsatisfactory. Only when we make the correlation of the dependency and humiliation of the poverty of "having" with the attitude of "poor in spirit", which is the preliminary prelude of humility and the dependency of faith in God, can we understand the generalizations of the Biblical representations of the poor. Thus conjoined, the poor recognize that they must rely upon the grace of God.
Living as "rich" and/or "poor"
Since everyone has a link between physical "having" and spiritual "being", how do we go about living with, and responding to, the particular combinations of wealth and/or poverty in which we find ourselves? The four combinations of richness and/or poverty of "having" connected with richness and/or poverty of "being" are:
(1) rich in "having" and poor in "being"
We shall proceed to consider the options and challenges of these combinations.
(2) poor in "having" and poor in "being"
(3) poor in "having" and rich in "being"
(4) rich in "having" and rich in "being"
The unregenerate rich are at home in the fallen world-order and seeking to be as comfortable and powerful as they can be by working within the system. Accepting the humanistic premise of man's autonomy and independence, and believing in an inherent and unlimited human potential and ability, the rich in "having" and poor in "being" have faith in themselves and the power of their possessions. Little do they realize that they have been duped and deceived by Satan's lie, and are engaged in idolatrous worship of mammon (Matt. 6:24). The "deceitfulness of riches" (I Tim. 6:9) deceives them into thinking wealth will create for them an identity in "Who's Who?". They seek happiness and contentment, but seldom enjoy what they have. They seek freedom from the mundane world of work, but find themselves working ever harder to maintain and keep what they have, enslaved to the high-maintenance time and energy required to manage their wealth. They seek a guarantee and security for the future when they retire, without realizing that this is an illusion of seeking for extended permanency in a world and a life-span that is very temporal (James 4:14). "Using people and loving things," their personal relationships are often quite shallow and superficial, as their "deeds of the flesh" (Gal. 5:19-21) create many dissensions and disputes (often over money!). Ever striving for additional enrichment, they seek to acquire and accumulate, and since their wealth further enables such, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."
Are these persons likely to be receptive to a change either in their abundance of "having" or in their poverty of "being"? The unlikeliness of such was made evident after the rich young ruler refused to be detached from his riches (Matt. 19:16-22), and Jesus used an hyperbole, saying, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:24). The statement is hyperbole, but not an overstatement of the difficulty that one whose entire life is wrapped up in "having" possessions will encounter in turning away from attachment to wealth in order to find richness of "being" in Jesus Christ. The either-or of serving God or mammon (Matt. 6:24) requires a surrender and detachment from material things that those who have invested everything in such wealth find it threateningly difficult to do. Does this mean that a wealthy person cannot become a Christian? No, for the grace of God is quite sufficient to enact such if a rich person is receptive to such a total spiritual exchange of masters and willing to love God more than money. Many have settled, though, for the cheap substitute of religion that often caters to acquisitional richness in a "health and wealth prosperity doctrine," urging humanistic self-effort in slogans such as, "God helps those who help themselves," and "Do you best, and God will do the rest." Others have participated in religion for the social benefits of networking with others who can be used to further enrich themselves. The unregenerate rich will always find it difficult to recognize the falsity of the humanistic premise of independent self-reliance, in order to admit their bankruptcy of spiritual "being", and become "poor in spirit" in dependent humility that is receptive to the Spirit of Christ in faith. Since the majority of people in the Western world today are probably in this category, it is little wonder that there is such minimal interest in the Christian gospel, yet increasing interest in religion that has adapted to humanistic and materialistic premises.
Most needy of all persons are the unregenerate poor who think that their greatest need is to acquire more money to resolve all their needs. "If only I could get money and get ahead, I could be successful and be satisfied," they explain. The illusions of financial success loom large in the minds of those who are poor both in "having" and "being," and they are most susceptible to the "get rich quick" schemes that are proffered by the rich to enrich themselves. Duped and deceived by the humanistic lie that if they "believe in themselves" and work the system, they, too, will be rich, they strive to dig themselves out of poverty. They are no less money-minded or materialistically oriented than are the unregenerate rich. They become easy prey to the religions that tell them that "God helps those who help themselves," and "Do your best, and God will do the rest," and to the innumerable employment "opportunities" that promise that they can rise to the top of the pyramid of wealth if they will but surrender and sell-out to the program's principles of success.
Those who are not striving for a success program that will make them rich are often striving just as hard to alleviate their discontent of poverty by conniving to get their share of that which belongs to those who are rich. Reacting against alleged injustice and inequity, they take advantage of the benevolence of charity, seek to orchestrate changes in the governmental system, or demand their rights and privileges through revolutionary, political action. Their attitude of deservedness, fostered by a sense of victimization, makes them receptive to a welfare-mentality and to becoming proponents of increased socialistic programs.
The humiliation and embarrassment of social rejection and dependency brings some of the unregenerate poor to a place of receptivity to changes outside of the humanistic and materialistic parameters of understanding. The poor in "having" and "being" are more likely to reach an attitude of hopelessness whereby they recognize the falsity of the humanistic lie of human potential, and conclude that the tenets of independent capability and self-reliance are unworkable and unsatisfactory. They are then more amenable to being receptive and dependent on a source beyond themselves. That is the perspective from which Jesus explained in the synagogue of his hometown of Galilee that He was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 61: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to set free those who are downtrodden" (Lk. 4:18). The double poverty of "having" and "being" often prepares the poor for receiving the spiritual riches that are available in Jesus Christ.
The poor in "having" can then transition to the attitude of being "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3), which is the preliminary prerequisite to becoming rich in "being." In the words of the Psalmist, they admit, "I am afflicted and needy. Let the Lord be mindful of me. Thou art my help and deliverer" (Ps. 40:17). And "the Lord hears the needy" (Ps. 69:33). The "poor in spirit" humbly recognize that there is no hope but in God. As long as they still cling to some hope of "having" wealth or significance by careful planning and hard work, or by receiving from charity or welfare, or by changing the system through revolutionary or political action, then they do not have the humble attitude of being "poor in spirit", which looks to, and trusts in, God alone. In utter humility the "poor in spirit" confess, "I do not have; only He has" "I am not; only He is" "I cannot; only He can" These are thus receptive in faith to the provision of God's grace in Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17) "The needy of mankind shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 29:19), declared the prophet, and so it is that the "poor in spirit" are willing to derive from, and be dependent upon, Jesus Christ as the object of their faith, hope and love.
"By grace we are saved through faith" (Eph. 2:8), and regenerated with the richness of God's life and Being. This exchange of spiritual "being" whereby an individual receives the "unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8), is a conversion from identification and union with the "being" of Satan to an identity and union of "being" with God in Christ. Acts 26:18 makes this explicitly clear where Paul explains that we are turned from the exousia (derived from two Greek words: ek = out of; ousia = being), from deriving our "being" "out of the being" of Satan, to deriving our "being" "out of the being" of God. The spiritual "being" of all men is in the identity of being either a "child of the devil" or a "child of God" (I John 3:10).
When a person is truly regenerated and invested with the very Being of Christ, then the solicitations of temptation seem to intensify. Some who realize their richness of "being in Christ Jesus, conceive of themselves as "God's rich kids" who have a right to make demands of their Father, God. Others seem to think that they "own" God's riches and can determine the criteria for others to participate. Still others develop a proud piety about being poor in "having", which is but a form of self-righteousness that brags about "not being like those greedy rich folks." All of these attitudes have sacrificed the humble attitude of being "poor in spirit", which is a constant prerequisite to the ontological dynamic of being rich in Christ.
The intangible powers of Satan's world-system continue to tempt the poor Christian with pressures to find contentment, security, identity, etc. in tangible wealth. The religion of the world advises that wealth and success are "signs of God's blessing" allowing for greater contributions and service to God - despite the fact that the Christian has "every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3), and "God is not served with human hands, as though He needed anything" (Acts 17:25). The propagandizers of the world even go so far as to claim that it is a cop-out for the Christian to claim that "God will take care of you." "Doesn't Paul say that 'the one who does not work to care for his own is worse than an unbeliever" (I Tim. 5:8), they ask? Their argument continues with, "If you do not amass sufficient assets for your retirement, then you are selfishly creating a situation where others will have to take care of you." In their own self-orientation, they thus attempt to indict the Christian for "selfishness" because he trusts in God and does not buy into the self-acquisitional and self-serving humanistic premises of the world-system. The Christian must be on guard for the subtlety of Satan's temptations at all times.
Those with accumulated assets of money and property who have also received the spiritual riches that are in Christ Jesus are particularly tempted. Wealth in not an evil in itself, but it is an avenue for much temptation. Satan constantly solicits those with calculable tangible assets through the intangible powers within the fallen world-order, tempting those with wealth to find their identity, influence, contentment and security in their possessions. It is extremely difficult for the Christian who is rich in belongings to resist, and not to succumb to, the benefits offered as accompaniments and accoutrements of physical wealth in the world today.
If Christians "love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength" (Matt. 22:37), then they cannot "love money" (I Tim. 6:10) at the same time. This is the love of ultimate priority and total attachment that does not allow for a divided mind (cf. James 1:8; 4:8), for "no man can serve two masters; he will love the one and hate the others, for you cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). Attachment to, and spiritual union with, Jesus Christ necessitates a detachment from monetary and material assets. The question is always whether there can be detachment without divestiture of one's physical properties. The rich young ruler was advised to "sell all his possessions and give them to the poor" (Matt. 19:21). His inability to make such a divestiture revealed his continuing attachment to his property. Ananias and Sapphira were, likewise, not detached from their belongings when they conspired to hold back a portion while claiming to have divested themselves of everything in giving to the community (Acts 5:1-11). Detachment from personal and physical riches is the necessary corollary of attachment to Jesus Christ, and requires "setting one's mind on things above" (Col. 3:2) in order to constantly recognize that physical possessions are but tangible objects that have been desacralized, demystified, and demythologized of their false deification and powers. Wealthy Christians can then say, "It's only money - tangible resources entrusted to us by God, and concerning which we are responsible to be faithful stewards and trustees."
Prosperous Christians constantly walk a tenuous tightrope that requires a delicate balance. They must "thread the needle carefully" (cf. Matt. 19:24) to maintain the priority of spiritual "being" over physical "having." Idolatry lurks in the temptation to keep acquiring and accumulating by collecting, hoarding, stockpiling and "building bigger barns" (Lk. 12:18). The enslavement of time expenditure and mental energy in preserving assets and managing properties, portfolios and personnel always seeks to rob wealthy Christians of their freedom in Christ to be and do all that God wants to be and do in them by His grace. Some Christians have chosen to divest themselves of assets, even to the extent of taking a "vow of poverty." Others have decided to simplify their lives by passing their assets on to others, or by delegating the responsibility for such to others. Many have found great joy in being the conduit of God's givingness, allowing God to express His giving character through them in the contribution and distribution of assets, as they listen to God in obedience and give as the Spirit directs.
When the God who is love (I Jn. 4:8,16) lives and functions within Christians, they will "love people and use things" instead of "loving things and using people." Christian love seeks the highest good of others without reciprocal or residual benefits, and without influence or credit attributed. God's grace and love flows freely to others with no thought of depletion of resources, no thought of the deservedness of the recipients, and no thought of the directed returns. The "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22,23) will be the character exhibited in the interpersonal relationships of Christians as they recognize divine ownership and orchestration in their lives.
Affluent Christians, and this probably includes the majority of the Western Church to some extent, can only appreciate their spiritual richness of "being" in Christ Jesus as they continue to maintain the attitude of being "poor in spirit", the humility that recognizes that "I am not; only He is" "I do not have; only He has" "I cannot; only He can" In the receptivity of faith we recognize that our identity, ability and security are not derived from "having" or "not having", but only from the grace of God in Christ.
In summation it should be noted that although "rich" and "poor" may be relative and proportional terms in reference to "having" or "not-having" tangible assets, there is no relativity to these categorizations when referring to spiritual "being." There is a clear-cut either-or of spiritual condition. An individual is either a Christian or not a Christian; either regenerate or not regenerate. It is the wealth or poverty of spiritual "being" that will determine the character, aspirations and behavior of those who are rich or poor in "having" possessions. Ontological wealth or poverty will influence and affect acquisitional wealth or poverty.
1: Juenger, Friedrich Georg, The Failure of Technology: Perfection without Purpose. Hindale, Ill.:
Henry Regnery Company. 1949. Pg. 10.
6: Ellul, Jacques, Money and Power. Downer's Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press. 1984.
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